Between us | Winner takes it all | columns | Hindustan Times
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Between us | Winner takes it all

columns Updated: Apr 02, 2008 18:57 IST
Pankaj Vohra

The Gujarat verdict has proved beyond any doubt that Chief Minister Narendra Modi is the rising star of Indian politics — even if the thought appears to be scary. The polls have also established that the Congress has no organisational structure left in several states and and its overall political management needs to be streamlined if it has to recover lost ground and prestige in the future. The party’s inability to project any leader as an alternative to Modi proved counter-productive. The party’s obsession with minority politics and appeasement was also fully exploited by Modi who, in a way, appears to have mastered the art of relating to people.

In fact, Modi’s victory with little or no help from several Sangh outfits demonstrates that a focused no holds barred approach pays in the long run. The Gujarat Chief Minister has also become the first BJP/Jana Sangh head of a government to have retained power after a full five-year term with a very impressive win. In doing so, he may have overshadowed even BJP stalwarts like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Kishen Advani. In addition, the entire central leadership of the BJP and the Sangh may also have been rendered irrelevant by the Gujarat showing.

What could be an uncomfortable thought for many in the BJP is that Modi has emerged as the biggest brand in the Hindutva-type of politics and his word or opinion in the future could carry more weight than those of all other leaders put together. He will be the new icon of the cadres and his elevation to an unparalleled status in electoral politics within the Sangh parivar could make him the man with a final veto.

A question bound to be asked is what his victory would mean for the future of the NDA and how the present top leadership of the BJP that had recently decided to endorse Advani’s name for the prime ministership react to the development. Will the cadres settle for the core Hindutva issues to be ignored for the sake of sharing an alliance? Or will the BJP slogan once again change to what Modi stands for? Would it also force the party to be forthright about establishing a Hindu rashtra.

Modi by this victory and subsequently by his cleverly-worded SMS, “I was the CM, am the CM and will remain the CM,” has proved that he has matured politically. He took pains to spell out that ‘CM’ meant ‘common man’ and therefore enlarged the scope of interpretation of the letters merely representing Chief Minister. Obviously, since he is in politics, he may have political ambitions of coming to the centrestage as well. If he decides to do that, he will treat the present leadership in the same way as he treated the ageing leadership of Gujarat.

There is no denying that the leadership question in the BJP from among the second-generation leaders has been settled with the verdict. Modi is the first one who has emerged from the second row to a place in the front row, and it is only a matter of time that he may occupy the corner seat representing the supreme leader. Uma Bharti, the only other mass leader among the second-generation, has been left far behind. By her flip-flops in Gujarat, she has damaged her position considerably.

Although on the face of it, every BJP leader wants to rejoice, at the same time, many of them should be worried about what the future holds for them. Advani, who is already on virtual probation, will have to play second fiddle, particularly after he had accepted conditions from the RSS to be projected for the top job. With Modi breathing down the neck, he will have to do something extraordinary to keep him calm and in control. His ‘Jinnah thesis’ will have to be obviously upturned 180 degrees. There are some in Gujarat who feel that had Advani not been declared as prime ministerial candidate on the eve of the polls, the BJP victory would have been greater as the CM’s supporters wanted him to be projected for New Delhi’s top job.

The victory has put egg on the face of the RSS, which had decided to be neutral in the poll process without realising that Modi had beaten them at their own game. It should not come as a surprise now that Modi may also come out openly in support of the Indo-US nuclear deal, forcing his party to review its stand. This could also help him get back his US visa and thus enable him to travel to the US to raise money from Gujaratis settled abroad for the betterment of their state. Anything is possible.

For the Congress, there are many lessons to learn. Had the party leaders delivered in Gujarat, it would have been the best present they could have given to Sonia Gandhi, who completes 10 years in active politics later this week. What is appalling is that there was no leader in Gujarat who could match Modi’s histrionics or his ability to draw crowds or replicate his communication skills. Both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi did campaign there, but it should have been left to a local leader to infuse confidence and direction to the campaign.

The Congress must have also realised that the Tehelka exposé, the ‘Maut ke Saudagar’ phrase and the Sohrabuddin reference all helped Modi to consolidate his position. And he did it by cleverly mixing emotions, Hindutva and development (Narmada). The leaders who were looking after the state should have been more responsible. For instance, it could also be the time for the party to make its central ministers and office-bearers accountable for defeats. Why should a person be made a minister or an office-bearer unless he is able to garner support for his party in the polls?

In politics, there can be no liabilities. But this does not mean that only one or two persons should be made scapegoats. There has to be collective responsibility — of all those who guided Sonia Gandhi on the Gujarat strategy and failed to see the truth; of all those who messed up things; and of all those who encouraged BJP rebels to get Congress tickets diluting the party’s fight against communalism.

But one thing is certain in both the BJP and the Congress: things will not be the same. Modi is the new icon of the saffron brigade and the Congress has to do some introspection and go in for a major revamp of both the cabinet and the party. But Modi’s victory is not a BJP win, as the fight was Modi versus Modi. Modi has won. Between us.